7 takeaways from our series on forest carbon trading

This is the summary of our five-part series on forest carbon credits and the voluntary market. Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.

Mongabay recently published a five-part series on carbon trading and its use as a tool to address climate change. The exchange of carbon credits, commonly used to offset emissions, has come under unprecedented criticism in 2023. Much anger has centered on the credits of REDD+ projects. (REDD+ stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.”) Opponents have long charged that offsetting these and other credits allows wealthy people, corporations and countries to continue polluting. At the same time, critics argue, the strategy forces less industrialized, tropical forest countries to shoulder the burden of conservation and restoration.

Then, in 2023, questions are raised as to whether those reductions — and deforestation cuts — are happening at the level stated. Sections of voluntary carbon trading have revealed that a lot of money has changed hands, but there is little transparency around its direct impacts. Concerns about carbon accounting methods have arisen around whether trade has made progress toward reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere that has led to rising temperatures since the industrial revolution.

A larger study found other similar problems Malpractice Community members by REDD+ project staff. More broadly, indigenous and community leaders, some of whom actively support voluntary carbon trading to get money into the hands of people on the ground, are calling for a greater voice in the design of REDD+ projects and local land conservation efforts. Rights before employment begins.

Amid these challenges, advocates say they realize they need to be more vocal in emphasizing what they see as the benefits the voluntary market can deliver. They acknowledge the challenges, from quantifying emissions to protecting and engaging communities, but they often return to the idea that investing in forest conservation is an important tool in avoiding the worst effects of climate change. They argue that voluntary carbon trading provides a way to channel private investment into these projects, especially as governments around the world are slow to act amid rising temperatures and biodiversity loss.

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A woman tends her tilapia ponds in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Image by John Cannon/Mangabay.

Below are seven key points from our report.

1. Experts agree that tribal and local communities should be consulted in decision-making around forest carbon projects.

Self-determination rights, land, and Free, prior and informed consent Important in protecting indigenous groups and local communities. While some tribal-led groups have voiced their support for REDD+ and carbon trading as a way to access climate-related financing for conservation and development, they are wary that the rush to scale up so many projects — and the potential for profit — could erode forest ownership. dependent people. In recent years, many countries have moved to regulate carbon-related projects within their borders. Rights advocates say land grabbing can result, citing the eviction of members of the Ogiek tribal community in Kenya as a prime example. These advocates must formally approve land rights before starting projects.

2. Most observers agree that companies should reduce their own operational emissions. Only after doing that will they have to buy carbon credits to offset the excess emissions.

Proponents and skeptics alike of voluntary carbon markets highlight the need for companies investing in carbon credits to first work on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions as a result of their operations. Then, carbon credits can be an additional investment to deal with remaining hard-to-cut emissions that are too expensive or impossible to eliminate at this stage. Several standard-setting bodies including Architecture for REDD+ Transactions (ART) and the Science-Based Targets Initiative, companies now have to demonstrate that they have tackled emissions. Indigenous and community leaders want companies to act in good faith and not leave all climate action to less industrialized nations.

3. Proponents of carbon markets say that companies that invest in carbon credits are generally more likely to have worked to reduce their operational emissions.

Published by Silvera, a UK-based carbon analytics company A study It shows that these companies are almost doubling down on decarbonizing their operations, supporting observers who argue that carbon credits are not just a license to pollute. Others ResearchHowever, it shows that many companies ignore the full range of emissions caused by their supply chain. Specifically, „Scope 3” emissions refer to carbon releases that result indirectly from a company's work and are often not reported. Scientists say that gap must be addressed if climate goals of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels are to be met.

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A logging camp in Sarawak, Malaysia.
A logging camp in Sarawak, Malaysia. Image by John Cannon/Mangabay.

4. Scandals surrounding carbon markets have undermined confidence that credits are a viable climate change mitigation tool.

Reporting from Guardian Newspaper, German news weekly Time And the non-profit press organization Source Material questioned whether most of the carbon credits stemming from a global selection of REDD+ projects represent any real benefits to forests and the climate. Supporters of voluntary carbon trading took issue analysis and with other scientists fee The report-based study contained „serious errors” in its analysis. However, a series of high-profile scandals led to a further decline in confidence surrounding these markets. Allegations of social displacement, trophy hunting And Malpractice It has tainted the entire sector, and some fear it could put off potential buyers from investing further in loans.

5. As some companies have reduced investments in carbon credits, others have announced large carbon-related investments, particularly in Africa.

A group of donors, conservation groups and companies that are part of the African Carbon Markets Initiative are likely to funnel $50 billion annually to the continent. The group says the money will help communities on the continent better adapt to the effects of climate change, such as droughts, rising storms and rising sea levels.

However, again, indigenous groups and human rights campaigners say land rights must be secure to protect communities. Other groups note that replacing agriculture with plantations aimed at harvesting carbon for profit would be disastrous for food security.

6. A market watchdog now recommends moving away from „offsetting” as a path to carbon neutrality.

In June, the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI) issued guidelines For buyers of carbon credits, it requires purchases to be designed to „contribute” to mitigating global climate change and calls for a move away from carbon neutrality claims based on offsets. The recommendations are in part to address criticism that borrowing gives a company the right to continue polluting. In 2023, several large companies, including Nestlé, announced a pause in their plans to go carbon neutral by purchasing offsets. Meanwhile, Delta Airlines faces a lawsuit in California over whether its neutrality claims actually stand up to scrutiny.

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7. Governing bodies expect to increase standards to encourage a „rush to standards” in the voluntary carbon market.

VCMI and the Integrity Council for Voluntary Carbon Markets (ICVCM) work together and work with carbon certifiers such as Verra to improve carbon accounting systems and safeguards to improve the quality of carbon credits sold in the voluntary market. Concerns about the effectiveness of REDD+ and other carbon programs may reduce demand for carbon credits, thereby reducing the flow of funding for forest conservation. Proponents of carbon markets as a climate solution say that more stringent standards will increase buyer confidence in the market.

A proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) in Malaysian Borneo.
A proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) in Malaysian Borneo. Image by John Cannon/Mangabay.

Banner Image: A truck for a packaging factory in Cameroon. Image by Olivier Girard/Chifor Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

John Cannon A staff features writer with Mongabay. Find him blue sky.


Mitchard, ET, Carstairs, H., Cosenza, R., Saatchi, SS, Funk, J., Quintano, PN, … Nowak, E. (2023). Serious errors affect the estimation of forest carbon projects: a rebuttal by West et al (2023). arXiv Preprint. doi:10.2139/ssrn.4661873

West, TAP, Wunder, S., Sills, EO, Börner, J., Rifai, SW, Neidermeier, AN, Frey, GP, & Kontoleon, A. (2023). Action is needed to offset carbon from forest conservation activities to mitigate climate change. Science, 381(6660), 873–877. doi:10.1126/science.ade3535

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Climate Change, Biodiversity, Carbon, Carbon Security, Carbon Credits, Carbon Market, Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Climate Change and Forests, Climate Change Politics, Community Forestry, Community-Based Conservation, Conservation, Environment, Environment, Ecosystem, Agriculture Specialization, Forestry Carbon, Forests, Global Warming Mitigation, Governance, Impact of Climate Change, Indigenous Communities, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Rights, Industry, Red, Red and Biodiversity, Red and Communities, Tropical Forests


Integrity Council for Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM), Verra


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